Our nation’s model is not based on hatred or bias against anyone

By Irũngũ Houghton

History is replete with religious and political leaders announcing warring crusades or pronouncing fatwas against Muslims, Christians, blacks, the sick, differently abled and women.
Sadly, a small number of today’s generation seem ready to repeat this bloody history. On Friday, saw a milder yet similar call against a Kenyan minority community.

Any devout believer or theologian is familiar with the crusades. Fought between 1096 and 1492, the crusades saw several medieval Christian Popes systematically organise profiling and violence against communities of different faiths, including Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Predictably, crusades were met with jihads as both sides claimed they were defending civilisation against annihilation. Earlier this year, this column called for an end to the online hate speech against the LGBTIQ+ community.

The spike in hate crimes followed the February 24 Supreme Court ruling in favour of the right to association in favour of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. Within weeks of that judgment, there were 25 Kenyans forced out of their homes, public vehicles and public spaces into safe houses and psychosocial counselling.
Yesterday, nearly 500 Muslims marched across Nairobi’s capital city to the Judiciary to condemn three Supreme Court judges and petition parliamentarians for stiffer laws. Their actions follow several recent demonstrations at the Coast and elsewhere.

Nyali MP Mohamed Ali was captured publicly calling for harm and death to persons on Friday 15 September in Makadara Gardens. His words have been repeated by others on social media without any arrests.

The zeal of this hatred has even led to some calling for cancellation of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Programme to Kenya because it is argued, sexual minorities are accessing anti-retroviral medicine and other support.

The language frames the heterosexual majority against a non-binary minority. This “us and them” binary narrative is carefully designed to incite isolation, hateful abuse, and violence. If we would not accept this against women or specific ethnic groups, why should we in this case?

It is more tragic that two historically influential and sacred texts, the Koran and Bible are being selectively chosen to fuel this latest crusade/jihad.

Two days ago, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission expressed their alarm. They reminded leaders that gender affiliation or consensual sex with partners of our choice is not criminal. Kenyans have multiple identities and should not be profiled and targeted.

Identity based discrimination and violence attacks the very spine of the Kenyan nation. It doesn’t matter whether it is against elderly, persons with disabilities, the poor, the hungry, the homeless or sexual minorities. In their hurry to condemn and deny the existence of gays at the same time, the latest campaigns have brought together strange alliances to whip up a nation with what is happening in others’ bedrooms rather than respond to more pressing issues facing Kenya now.

This heterosexist bias forgets that lesbians, gays, bisexual, trans-gender, and queers are also students, parents, teachers, police officers, civil servants, politicians, Christians, and Muslims. They too, deserve dignity and safety under our laws and an inclusive and accommodative culture.

Religious extremism is the reason why 309 million Christians face prosecution for their choice of faith in several Muslim or Communist countries today.

It is the reason that elsewhere, 25,000 Rohingya Muslims have died and 750,000 are now stateless. In the last decade, there have been 100 anti-Muslim attacks across six European countries.

Let us not forget at this time, that even the Islamic Prophet Muhammad was once subjected to similar abuse. Praying near the Kaaba, Uqba ibn Abu Mu’ayt threw the entrails of a sacrificed camel over him.

Extremist thoughts and attacks place innocent people at risk, dishonour our national values and blur religions founded on the principles of love, compassion, and co-existence. We must ask of those to dialogue and desist before large numbers of innocent people get hurt. This current mobilisation is not a model for the nation we are today.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]

Featured Image Credit: Elvis Ogina, Standard